Wednesday, September 15, 2010
On September 28, 2010 the Direct To Video Feature Superman / Batman Apocalypse will be released. In honor of the new animated feature film I'll be doing this list of my top ten favorite comics on the lead villain of the piece Darkseid of the New Gods.
10. Spectre v4 #19
"The Equations of Light and Darkness"
A wonderful single issue piece written by the talented John Ostrander with excellent artwork from an artist I grew up on while reading Batman, Norm Breyfogle. The Spectre, then hosted by Green Lantern Hal Jordan, hears an inner cry for help on the terrible planet ruled by Darkseid called Apokolips.
The cry comes from a little girl called Anomalie, who is being hunted down and tormented because of her ability to create a beautiful light show in the palm of her hand in the dismal murky grit and mire that are the slums of Armagetto. This leads the Spectre, who places the girl under his personal protection, into direct conflict with the great Darkseid himself. Their initial face off is strong and epic, showing just how useless pure unabashed physical power can be when dealing with a New God like Darkseid. When it looks like The Spectre (who is basically the right hand of God, his vengeful Wrath taken physical form) smites Darkseid from the face of Apokolips, the entire planet almost convulses and has a gag reaction until Darkseid simply reforms himself.
Darkseid utilizes his Omega beams and never engages in pure fisticuffs, because it is beneath him and there is simply no need to do so. Because the Spectre has sped the girl away to safe ground on the neighboring planet of New Genesis, she has become a symbol of hope that Darkseid is committed to snuffing out and extinguishing. Ultimately after a trip to the Source Wall with the knowledge hungry New God Metron, The Spectre is reminded that much like his former Green Lantern Battery, all batteries need a negative along with a positive charge to function properly.
A somewhat simple yet effective and even obvious answer to the age old question of why there is evil in the universe like Darkseid. Metron not wanting to bring the wrath of Darkseid's Parademon forces to New Genesis, brings Anomalie back to Apokolips where Darkseid intends to publicly execute the small helpless girl-child. That is until she of her own accord decides that her execution is what must be done in order to prevent more bloodshed and publicly forgives Darkseid for the taking of her very life. This displays another fine point in the makeup of Darkseid's character. He may be a twisted, evil schemer who is unrelenting in his goal to wield the Anti-Life equation and subjugate the free will of the entire universe, but he's also always had his own set of personal boundaries and rules. Partly of his epic Godly aura is found in his response to conflicts such as this. He coldly laughs and says he will no longer execute the child.
Darkseid quickly dismisses these notions and explains how the girl will suffer and choke on her new found "freedom" having no idea what to do with it or how to use it properly. Instead of a swift and merciful execution, he condemns her to suffer the pangs of a life without the structured order that is Darkseid. Even in a heroic victory Darkseid can still spin the outcome so that it is to his own favor.
9. Superman #3-Adventures#426-Action Comics #586
"O' Deadly Darkseid"
"From The Dregs"
This is the 3 part story by writer Artist John Bryne (for the 1st and 3rd parts) along with Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway (for the 2nd part), that sets up the rivalry between Superman and Darkseid, making him one of the Man of Steel's most challenging opponents.
Thanks to hurling Clark Kent out the window into the fire-pits of Apokolips an Amnesiac Superman is manipulated by Amazing Grace's mind control into thinking himself the son of Darkseid.
Other stories like the Elseworlds tale Superman: The Darkside and The Superman The Animated Series episode Legacy have told their own versions of this story, but this one was the first to do so.
Darkseid uses Superman as a faux-savior to raise the hopes of the dissenting citizenry who call themselves the Hunger Dogs and lure the entire group out into the open to crush them once and for all. Convinced his abilities come from Darkseid himself and that he is the son of Darkseid, Superman goes into battle against those New Gods from New Genesis sent to save him, Lightray and Darkseid's true son, Orion.
Luckily for them, Orion's true visage and the technological wonder the New Gods call a Mother Box (kind of like a tricorder/smartphone for Gods) Superman is freed from both his amnesia and fealty to Darkseid.
This leads to Darkseid attempting to strike down Superman with his vaunted Omega Beams which once fired from his eyes will like a homing missile stay on their intended target until the very end. Superman then pioneers the
trick of sending the Omega Beams back to their source, striking their own master Darkseid.
Superman then turns the confrontation physical once again, which Darkseid then diffuses by transporting him away in a Boom Tube (sometimes called a Stargate on the Superfriends cartoon), a portal which is the only way on or off Apokolips. Finally we are again exposed to Darkseid's twisted but unyielding moral code.
Guess this is why fanboys across the internet and Grant Morrison figure Batman had a chance against Darkseid.
Batman you cheaty cheater who isn't afraid to teach kids that when all else fails, cheating is the way to succeed in life. Thanks Batman! You're the greatest!
8. Young Justice #53-55
"Dead Man Sprinting"
"Break On Through To The Other Seid"
"I've got a Secret"
This ongoing thing with the teen hero Secret, a personal baby of Young Justice writer Peter David and Darkseid's ongoing interest in a teen spirit of Vengeance was always very witty and well-played, leading to a climax in this 3 issue story arc where Secret goes to the Darkseid, so to speak.
I think its cute how Secret calls one of the greatest evils in the universe "Doug" (she mistakenly pronounces Darkseid's name Doug Side).
Todd Nauck's pencils are also pretty cute, but also effectively convey the menace of the evil New God.
Darkseid may not appear much in this arc, but in Secret's turn to her darker impulses, his presence is felt throughout. Eventually Robin talks some sense into Secret and she ends her rampage, whereby Darkseid uses his Omega Effect to"punish" Secret for not finishing off her friends, effectively making her a normal real little girl.
7. Darkseid vs.Galactus: The Hunger
A fan inspired tale by writer/artist John Byrne that pits Marvel's world devourer from the pages of the Fantastic Four against DC Comics' lord and ruler of Apokolips, Darkseid. There are many great fights spotlighted here, chief among them Orion, the son of Darkseid, vs. the Silver Surfer, the herald of Galactus. Also the final showdown between Galactus and Darkseid himself is really something to see. Both entities refusing to back down to one another, simply doing what is in their nature to do.
6. Cosmic Odyssey
Writer Jim Starlin made his bones over at Marvel Comics with great runs on cosmic science fiction superheroes like Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock, so it's no wonder DC tapped him to pen their space faring epic titled Cosmic Odyssey.
Mike Mignola, who you may know better as the creator of Hellboy, does the art chores on this piece. His style of using heavy shadows and dark blacks work very well for outer space settings and the dark nature that is the planet Apokolips.
Written partly like an old issue of the Justice League with a group of DC Super Heroes pairing off into 4 duos to save the universe from the Anti-Life Entity discovered by that irresponsible seeker of knowledge Metron. The group of selected heroes, Superman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern John Stewart, Starfire and Jason Blood who can also transform himself into the Demon Etrigan are shocked to learn that New Genesis has formed a temporary pact with Darkseid to combat the menace of Metron's new-found discovery. Darkseid bitch-slapping Superman away from his person after angrily lunging towards him before this revelation of a truce is a highlight.
Also the way Batman has no physical advantage over even the lowliest of Darkseid's Parademon soldiers (Batman needs to use the Parademon's own Blaster to even take it down),much less their lord and master Darkseid, is well-written and much appreciated.
This doesn't mean Batman sits on his laurels either. His cunning and keen tactical mind provide an ace up the sleeve much to the consternation of Darkseid later in the piece.
When I was a kid I only had the first issue of this piece, so for years I wondered who was on the other end of the phone line Batman was talking to.
Obviously Batman's mistrust of Darkseid is with good reason, because before you know it he has snuck off with Etrigan to the realm of the Anti-Life Entity to harness the power for himself. Ever the schemer and prideful monarch Darkseid continues on seeking his precious Anti-Life equation at all costs.
5. Orion #5
"Day of Wrath"
An epic all-out brawl between father and son by writer/artist Walt Simonson, probably best known for his terrific run on Marvel's The Mighty Thor. For a long time the readers have been teased with the prophecy of an epic final battle between Darkseid and Orion. A father and son showdown to the finish.
This is one of a few books who attempt to deliver on that promise and actually succeed in the execution.
I think Death of the New Gods failed on this mark and while Countdown at least made an attempt to have a final showdown between these two as well, I think it can hardly be labeled a success.
Honestly it's too easy to compare this issue of Orion, almost completely filled with a fight sequence between the title character and Darkseid as something out of action-packed manga/anime Dragon Ball Z. The fighting is quick, epic and fast-paced to be sure, but then again 5 minutes of fight won't yield you 20 episodes worth of anime here. This is a tight single issue, which ends with Orion's victory over Darkseid in order to explore Orion's own nature and how he would choose to fill the void left on a Darkseid-less Apokolips in future stories down the road. But this issue itself features the delivery of something readers have yearned for from the beginning of this saga, a sense of resolution to a long-time conflict and rivalry. It really makes me wish there were more pieces like this either created in comics or adapted well in animation or even on the big screen.
4. Eclipso #10
In an effort to lend some credibility to the current ongoing series of a then major villain at the time writer Robert Loren Fleming had revealed that the Great Darkseid had played ongoing games of Chess with his title character Eclipso.
As they play their game each villain regails one another with tales of evil deeds from their past. Darkseid's tale of his eventual corruption of the now sadist right-hand henchman DeSaad, shows him to be an Iago-level schemer willing to go to the greatest depths to achieve his perverse goals.
This also details how in the original New Gods series by Jack Kirby Darkseid had DeSaad poison his own mother.
They tried to turn Eclipso from a joke of a villain into something frightening and sinister, and perhaps for a time they succeeded, but Darkseid is and always will be a force to be reckoned with.
3. Mister Miracle #9
A tale from the creator of the New Gods saga himself, writer/artist Jack "The King" Kirby gives an insight into the origins of the title character of this Fourth World series, Scott Free otherwise known as the death-defying escape artist Mister Miracle.
Himon would become the young Scott Free's mentor and teacher on the burning, fiery world of Apokolips. Before the non-aggression pact was made between New Genesis and Apokolips, those two worlds were constantly at war with one another.
However when Highfather exchanged his son Scott Free for Darkseid's son Orion this is when the uneasy truce began between the two worlds. The tale told is how Scott Free came to be brought up in Granny Goodness' orphanage and met Himon while serving as one of Darkseid's elite Aero-Troopers.
Scott learned his love for the escape artist trade from Himon, who would teach him of the wonders of the Mother Box and how this tool could be used to help one escape from all manner of terrible traps.
This leads to both Himon and his eventual wife Big Barda aiding in his escape from the fire-pits of Apokolips.
Now up to this point we've only heard Darkseid's name spoken in hushed whispers or with complete respect and reverence. Only at the end when Scott is finally about to escape does he make his presence known.
The great thing here is that while Darkseid is almost pulling a Darth Vader before his time and offering to "complete (Scott's) training and rule the galaxy as Father and (someone else's) son", either outcome is advantageous to him. In fact Darkseid pretty much allows Scott Free to escape, because once he does, the pact with New Genesis is ultimately null and void, freeing him up to do exactly what he wants to do most, seek out the Anti-Life Equation on the planet Earth.
2. Legion of Super Heroes 287, 290-294, Ann.#2
"The Great Darkness Saga"
A long remembered and fan favorite Legion of Super Heroes story written by Paul Levitz with art by Keith Giffen. Of course nowadays with the acclaim this story has received and with Darkseid being fully featured on a number of Collected Trade Paperback covers, I think it's easy to forget this storyline was written in 1982.
So it was in between the 2nd cancellation of the New Gods and before the revival due to the Superfriends in 1984. This actually made the villain behind the Great Darkness in the far flung future of the DC Universe a bit of a mystery to readers at the time. Certainly the solid writing of Paul Levitz had all the clues laid out there in front of you, but I think reading this piece many years later because it has the New Gods connection, might take some of the mystery out of the story that it originally had.
The first way I found out about the Great Darkness Saga was in 1989 when I was looking though all my older 2nd Cousin's comics. He let me finish reading the aforementioned #6 on the list Cosmic Odyssey and ended up giving me the first ten issues of the Marvel Transformers comics. I also went through a lot of his Who's Who comics and came across the entries for the Servants of Darkness in the Who's Who in the Legion of Superheroes books. Evil Dark versions of Superman, A Guardian of the Universe, an ancestor of Shadow Lass, Kalibak and Orion? I wondered what exactly that was all about and read on.
Of course any Legion fan worth their salt would know the team was in for some serious business when the likes of the evil wizard Mordru and the Time Trapper himself soil themselves over the "master" of the Servants of Darkness.
Taking over 3 billion Daxamites and using those inhabitants of Daxam as his personal army of darkness is pretty damn impressive. Darkseid now controls 3 billion souls and then goes one step further. He turns their red sun yellow so they can have super powers he can use to bend to his will. He makes them burn their planet to the ground with their heat vision and then reshape the planet into his own likeness. He then sends the army on a rampage throughout the universe. If not for the Daxamite's inherent weakness to lead and the White Witch's magical abilities, the Legion may very well have been undone.
There's even a great little artistic homage to the Sistine Chapel with Darkseid and Shadow Lass.
Orion's Servant form returns to normal with the assistance of Highfather who is revealed to be the child Darkseid has been seeking throughout the saga. Another final battle transpires between Orion and Darkseid, but since this is not the true Orion merely a mockery of the original, whether good or evil, he is a creation of Darkseid, and what Darkseid creates he can also destroy.
Superboy and Supergirl tag-team Darkseid quickly slamming him around.
Darkseid rapidly sends Superboy back to his own time using his Omega Effect, while nearly beating Anti-Monitor to the punch by 2 years and nearly kills Supergirl until the remaining Legionnaires show up to blast her free of his death-grip. With the White Witch having freed the 3 Billion strong Daxamites from Darkseid's hold they now are aiding the entire roster of Legionnaires against Darkseid. Sensing his undoing if he should choose to stay and fight it out, Darkseid leaves the Legion with a bittersweet victory as Darkseid often will do, advising them not to boast of their victory for his darkness shall never die.
1. New Gods (Deluxe) #6
"Even Gods Must Die"
Originally the New Gods series was canceled in the year 1972, leaving creator Jack Kirby's work on his Fourth World creations unfinished. There was a ridiculous attempt to resuscitate the franchise without him in 1977.
One way those books can be distinguished from the original works is by the ridiculous new costume they gave to Darkseid's son Orion.
He ends up looking like a Geo-Force knock off from Batman and the Outsiders instead of how the the son of Darkseid should appear.
This wasn't very successful and wrapped up by 1978 as a backup feature in Adventure Comics. This wrap up to the New Gods series featured one of the aforementioned final battles between Orion and Darkseid that certainly didn't live up to the hype.
By 1984 however, with the reemergence of Darkseid and his cronies over in Superfriends the Legendary Super Powers Show, these characters were on fire once again and a Deluxe series reprinting Kirby's original tales was put back into print. Not only that, but with the 6th and final issue Kirby would pick up right where he left off and finish the story the way he originally wanted to before the series had the plug pulled on it way back in 1972.
The first half of the issue reprints New Gods #11 (the last Kirby issue from 1972) and the second half features a excellent and epic final showdown between Darkseid and Orion (which eventually led into the Hunger Dogs Graphic Novel, which I looked for for YEARS as a kid and never found until adulthood).
This of course being my number one pick on the list means that as far as final showdowns based on prophecy go, is the very best of these showdowns out there. Also fighting aside, this presents a wonderful portrait of the type of cunning, bold and ferocious character Darkseid is and can be.
Back to the battle, Orion rips through Darkseid's men and machines stopping at nothing to get to the great lord himself and his incarcerated mother Tigra. Meanwhile, Darkseid shows just how awesome a power his Omega Beams are, as he had earlier wiped DeSaad off the face of Apokolips with them for treachery, now he simply reconstitutes DeSaad from the nothingness to which he had sent him. Lightray shows up to assist his comrade Orion against Stephenwolf and the hordes of Apokolips. Eventually Orion finds his way into Darkseid's inner chambers, where Darkseid lures Orion into a trap using his mother as bait and has his army of assassins mow him down. Now that is how you do a great final showdown Kirby-Style!